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17 September 2014
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Island activities

Go wild on an island

Machair on Coll c/o Tony Oliver

The British Isles' many islands offer great opportunities for wildlife watching in the summer months.

Our islands are often home to a diverse selection of wildlife from wild flowers to marine life and rare birds.

The Isle of Coll is a stunning sight in summer. Photo - Tony Oliver

Here are two great nature activities which you can take part on islands around the British Isles:

* Flower safari.
* Bird watching - track down Corncrakes.

Feast on flowers

Orchid c/o Tony OliverOur islands are home to a diverse selection of plants so why not take a closer look?

Great locations for this activity featured on BBC Nature's Calendar include:

* Walney Island - rare plants thrive on the island due to the calcium rich sandy terrain.

* Lundy Island - look out for the rare Lundy Cabbage, which is endemic to the island and has never been found anywhere else in the world.

* Coll - the island is famous for its gorgeous carpets of summer flowers as a result of its unique grassland landscape known as the machair.

* Jersey - in spring Jersey has a profusion of flowers that make the island a sea of vivid colour.

Other good locations for flowers are Uist in the Hebrides and the South Downs in Hampshire.

Flower safari tips

Ragged Robin c/o Tony Oliver Here are our top tips on looking for and identifying rare wild flowers in island habitats.

Summer is a good time to enjoy a feast of colour.

* The best way to identify different plants is to feel their shape and texture. But don't pick them!

* Don't pluck them out of the ground - instead gently rub leaves between your finger and thumb.

* Plants commonly found on islands will have adapted to the harsh, salty environment - this is shown in their shiny, waxy leaves.

* Most seaside and wetland plants flower during the summer, so look out for differences in colours and petal shapes

* Binoculars aren't just for bird-watching - turn them the other way around and use like a magnifying glass, particularly on very small plants to get a close-up of leaf patterns and other identifying features.

* A good identification guide is always useful to help you identify exactly what you're looking at.

Birding - Corncrakes

Corncrake c/o Chris PackhamCorncrakes are secretive birds which are easier to hear than to spot.

Corncrakes used to be relatively common birds across the British Isles, but now they survive in only a few remote locations.

This secretive bird is extremely difficult to see because of its skulking behaviour and due to its well camouflaged brown colour and preference for long vegetation.

Amongst the best BBC Nature's Calendar locations for Corncrake spotting is:

* Isle of Coll

Other good places to see Corncrakes in Scotland include:

* Colonsay, Scotland
* Iona, Scotland
* North Uist
* Tiree, Scotland
* Balranald, Outer Hebrides
* Onzieburst RSPB reserve, Orkney

We can also recommend:

* Tory Island, Northern Ireland
* Bullock Island, Northern Ireland
* Nene Washes RSPB reserve, Cambridgeshire (reintroduction).

Top Tips

The Corncrake is best seen in late spring and early summer before the grass grows too high.

This light brown bird tends to creep lowly through the grassland.

* Keep your ears open… Listen for the Corncrake's crex crex call, a rasping noise which resembles a squeaky gate. But remember, only the males make this sound.

* Choose promising locations - the majority of these birds can be found on the west coast of Scotland especially on islands such as Coll, Mull, Iona and Islay.

* Look for the types of habitat where the Corncrake likes to lurk such as hay pastures and fields.

* If the birds are undisturbed, they will sometimes appear in more open grassy areas - so watch patiently and don't make any noise.

* Occasionally the male birds will sit on a higher vantage point to call so keep your eyes open.

* Corncrakes are found mainly on lowland areas - the birds favour tall grass which provides excellent camouflage.

* Pick the correct season - the Corncrake is a migrant which arrives from mid-April and stays until August or September.

Photo credits

Coll flowers and machair c/o Tony Oliver Main photograph and plants of Coll courtesy and copy right of Tony Oliver and Coll Digital Images.

Corncrake image courtesy of Chris Packham.



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